Sunday, May 30, 2010

May 29 & 30 - Butter Pecan Ice Cream Pie with Caramel Topping

Butter pecan ice cream is my most favorite flavor in all the world.  There is just something about it that drives me nuts (Ha!).  I will take a handful of lactaid just so I can enjoy this most holy of ice cream flavors.  The sweet and salty are in  perfect balance as you get a play of smooth and crunchy textures in your mouth.  I think its my love for pecans in general that fuels this passion.  Oh gosh, I could gush for hours and hours on the greatness of this flavor, but I've got an ice cream pie to eat on this extremely hot day!

Pecans: $4.28
Graham Cracker Crumbs: $1.00
Brown sugar: $2.00
Butter: $1.99
Butter Pecan Ice Cream: $2.50
Caramel: made

Total: $11.77

I forgot to get caramel ice cream topping, so I decided to make a small batch.  Since I had some leftover cream in the fridge and sugar in the pantry, I was good to go.  (Caramel should only be made with cream.  Regular milk or half and half don't work.)

FAST:  Not really.  The crust took 5 minutes to prep and 15 minutes to freeze.  The ice cream sat out while this happened.  The ice cream softened, I put it into the shell, and then had to wait 1 hour for it to harden back up (made the caramel during this time).  So, about 1 hour 20 minutes for pie.

EASY:  The crust wasn't too difficult.  The processor made fast work of it.  Just make sure you pack your crumbs in well and into the corners of your dish for a crisp, finished look.

FRESH:  Not really.  It's just butter pecan ice cream and caramel.

I mean, come on.  Unless you don't like butter pecan ice cream, this is the greatest dessert so far in the past 6 months.

Okay.  I've got tomorrow (Memorial Day) off.  Which I will need to do school stuff.  Hopefully, I'll get back on track this week.

Friday, May 28, 2010

May 28th - Grilled Pesto Breadsticks with Goat Cheese Pesto Spread

I have to tell you that I have always made my own pesto.  I purposely grow a lot of basil in the summer to make a huge batch and then freeze (it works great in ice cube trays).  If I don't have pesto in the freezer, then I go without.  It has never crossed my mind to go to the store and buy already made pesto until this recipe.  Cause guess what?  No pesto in the freezer.  And with the project that I've been working on, no time to make my own.  So I discovered the pesto section (well, shelf really) of my grocery store.  Not much to choose from, so we'll see how it tastes.


Pesto: $2.99
Goat Cheese: $3.99
Bread: $1.99
Olive oil: had

TOTAL: $8.97


FAST:  The pesto/goat cheese was really quick in the food processor.  2 minutes tops?  Then the bread took another 5 to prep, coat, and then broil.  In less than 10 minutes, you've got an appetizer.

EASY:  The hardest part will be cutting up the bread.  You've got to split the bread, as if you're making a sandwich, and then cut those halves into strips.  Just think bread stick shapes and you'll be fine. 

FRESH: Pesto and goat cheese.  Yummy.  The jar pesto wasn't that bad.  Now homemade pesto....YUMMY IN THE TUMMY!!

OVERALL:  This is a simple, easy appetizer.  Brian really liked the bread and said he'd eat that by itself.  I liked the goat cheese/pesto spread.  (I'm actually going to toss that in some just cooked pasta with some chopped tomatoes and cooked broccoli for dinner tonight.  I think it's going to be great.)  The cheese/pesto would be a great addition to any cheese plate as well.

Okay, now we just have to get dessert out of the way, and I'll be all caught up!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 27th - Grilled Steaks with Anchovy Lemon Butter

I've Been A Bad Blogger

Okay, so this recipe and the next (the pesto bread) are actually late.  It is Sunday night and I am just blogging them now.  I made the recipes on Thursday and Friday respectfully (so that part of this blog I'm still good on), but I have a project for school that needs to get done ASAP.   In the spirit of full-disclosure, I've got to tell you that I've backdated these blog entries. 


Compound butter sounds like a hoity-toity thing, but it's super easy thing to make.  It's basically soft butter mixed with some herbs, spices, and/or other flavorings.  Some people will reform it into a log to make it look pretty, other chefs like to use a pastry bag to pipe out stars.  In either case you need to take your soften butter and put it back in the fridge to harden up.  Then you can either cut the log or serve the hardened stars on your bread and butter plates or top cooked meats (or fish).  The great thing about compound butter is that the flavor possibilities are endless.  You can go very simple with one flavor (like dill) or make it as complicated as you want (with olives, paprika, marjoram, lemon zest, cayenne pepper, anchovies, and oregano).  And, you can make a huge batch and put what you don't use in the fridge (tightly wrapped of course).  Then, the next time you have company, you can pull it out last minute and wow your guests.


The touch method of knowing how to cook meat is really not that hard.  There are three basic touches:
With your hand slightly closed, touch the pad of your palm.  Feel how soft that is?  That is rare.

With your hand now outstretched (but not really tight), touch that same part of your palm.  That is medium.
With your hand outstretched (somewhat tight now) touch the pad under your index finger.  It should feel pretty solid.  That is well.

Hey, not bad.  I took these pictures myself with the auto-timer and the camera in my mouth!


Butter: had
Anchovy: $1.79
Shallot: $0.89
Lemon: $0.50
Steak: $7.99

TOTAL: $11.17


FAST:  The butter didn't take more than 5 minutes to prepare.  (If you need to soften the butter quick, give it a 1 minute zap in the microwave.)  Even though the butter is quick to throw together, you'll need to let it become solid again in the fridge.  My butter took about 45 minutes to come back to a hard solid.  The steak was really quick.  I like rare to medium rare so I only "grilled" it for 7 minutes total.

EASY:  The butter is super easy to make.  The best part is you can make a big batch of compound butter and store it in the fridge.  Then, you can use it not only for meats, but as a flavored butter for a great loaf of crusty bread.  Depending on your skill with a grill, the steaks can be no problem or a pain in the butt.  I usually do the touch method of knowing when the meat is done, but some people will use a thermometer.  Just make sure you don't stick your meat too much, or you'll release all of the juices. 

FRESH:  If it had some chopped up fresh parsley or thyme, then I would give this a big yes.  But, it really isn't what I would consider fresh.

OVERALL:  Surprisingly, the anchovy lemon butter really isn't that bad.  However, if you don't like anchovies, you are not going to like this butter.  You can try adding fresh herbs all you like, but the anchovy taste is going to pop through.  Personally, I like anchovies and I actually liked this butter on my steak.  I think adding some fresh chopped capers would have given the butter even more zing and an Italian flare. 

Okay, we've got some pesto bread as an appetizer.  See ya then!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

May 26th - Warm Spinach Salad with Parmeasn

If a recipe could embody the lack of enthusiasm as demonstrated by yesterday's post, this would be the blue ribbon winner.  When I tasted this salad the words "ho-hum", "boring", and "lackluster" come to mind.  Yeah, it could be the snobby chef in me coming out.  But really folks, this salad is nothing more than a bowl of spinach with a warmed up balsamic dressing thrown on top.  They're adding the nuts and Parmesan to "fancy" it up, but really, you've got a basic spinach salad with boring-ness thrown in. (I'm sure there is a pig and lipstick joke somewhere in there).   I mean COME ON.  Speaking of pigs, how about some bacon?  Bon Appetit you could have at least gone with a warm bacon dressing on this one.  

I can't be too upset.  Everyone has those days where they don't want to work to hard.  For example, me, yesterday with this blog.  Today, Bon Appetit, I'm letting you off the hook on this one and chalking it up to a lazy day.

I suppose we should just get on with this as a formality.

Spinach: $2.10
Radicchio: $1.02
Olive oil: Had
Balsamic: had
Red Wine: had
Shallot: $0.89
Almonds: had
Parmesan: had

Total: $4.01

I'm sorry, but I was not going to spend a small fortune to buy pine nuts for this droll recipe.  I went with some slivered almonds which I had in the freezer. 


FAST:  The salad takes less than 10 minutes to make.  That includes the time you have to let the warm dressing sit in the spinach, the time it takes to make the dressing, and the time it took to toast the nuts in a pan on the stove top.

EASY:  We've discussed this before, but toasting nuts in a saute pan can be a little difficult.  You definitely never want to leave the kitchen or turn your back for too long on those guys.  They'll turn to charcoal in less than a few minutes.

FRESH:  Yeah, I guess.  You've got fresh spinach and radicchio. 

OVERALL:  Well I think you all know how I feel on this one.  LAME!  Seriously, I would have gone with a warm bacon dressing.  At least that would be a little more fun than a boring balsamic vinaigrette. 

Well, I'm out of here.  I'm going to get some Mexican food with Brian.  A new Mexican restaurant opened up in the neighborhood and I've been wanting to try it for days now.   Hasta maƱana!  See ya then!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

May 25th - Grilled Chicken with Chimichurri Sauce

Heat Stroke...
This warm weather is making me sluggish and not wanting to do much blogging.  So, I'm going to skip the small talk and get right into the recipe, which is actually not that bad.


Italian Parsley: $0.69
Olive oil: had
Red wine vinegar: had
Cilantro: $0.69
Garlic: had
Red Pepper: had
Cumin: had
Salt: had
Chicken: $3.19

Total: $4.57


FAST: The chimichurri is real quick because its all made in a food processor.  It took me less than 3 minutes.  Cooking the chicken took about 10 minutes.  I was too lazy to start the charcoal grill, so I decided to pan fry it in the house.  Yeah, probably not the smartest when its so hot, but it was the only thing I had to cook and that's what air conditioning is for.

EASY:  The hardest part is cooking the chicken.  There really isn't anything to the sauce except throwing it all in the food processor.  That's my kind of easy!

FRESH:  Uber-fresh.  Think of it as a parsley pesto/vinaigrette. 

OVERALL:  This recipe is really not that bad.  I only put in one clove of garlic, because I didn't want to reek of it.  Uncooked garlic is starting to make me very wary.  Anyway, this recipe is so easy to make and would go great with some cooked asparagus or roasted potatoes.  I like it because I always have too much parsley growing in my garden and nothing to do with it.  This kind of remedies that. 

Yeah this was kind of a bummer post, I know.  Not very witty.  But hang in there.  We've got salad tomorrow and I plan on sleeping in, so I should be as right as rain.  See ya then!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

May 22 & 23 - Strawberry Mascarpone And Marsala Budini

The Amazing Budini
Ugh, it is hot and sticky and I am not ready for this weather!  It's going to help the tomatoes I planted, but it's not going to do a thing for me except keep me indoors with the A/C on high! 

The dessert for this weekend is super easy, super delicious, and Italian!  Budini means "pudding" and is used rather loosely.  The consistency of the pudding can vary from really super soft to something rather dense.  And don't even get me started on flavors.  They are infinite and are only limited by your imagination. 

This dessert is perfect for the hot, mugginess outside.  Although, I will be enjoying mine indoors watching the last episode of my favorite T.V. show in the world....LOST!   I do have to say this season kind of bit, but I'm excited to see how they end it all.  After tonight, I won't have any shows to tune into regularly (except Modern Family).  I guess that's good.  It'll give me more time to read and cook (like I'm not doing that that is).


Marscarpone Cheese: $2.19
Marsala: had
Heavy whipping cream: $1.29
Sugar: had
Strawberries: $1.50
Amaretti: had

Total: $4.98

FAST:  This recipe is really quick to throw together, but you have to let the cream and berries sit in the fridge for 30 minutes before you can assemble your dessert.  Then, after it's assembled, you need to let it sit 30 minutes more.  So, you won't be eating budini for at least an hour.

EASY:  The hardest part you'll have with this recipe is not eating up all the wonderful strawberries before you get a chance to slice them.

FRESH:  I had super ripe strawberries which put the letter R in the word FRESH.   Garnish with some fresh mint leaves and you've got yourself one heck of a summer recipe.

OVERALL:  Great recipe.  If you don't want to go as heavy (or as expensive) as mascarpone, you can use cream cheese.  Also, you can use any other sweet dessert wine or even liquor in place of the Marsala.  I wouldn't mind trying this again with a little Chambord or Grand Marnier.  The amaretti are a must in this recipe.  You have got to search them out (look in Italian grocery stores) because they add a great crunch to the overall dessert.  MMMMM....we've got a winner with this one and I suggest you try it!

Okay, I'm going to hunker down now for Lost.  We'll see you Tuesday!

Friday, May 21, 2010

May 21st - Cucumber Gimlet

I fell in love with gin back when I was 21.  It was a wonderful summer.  My cousin, who lives in California, offered me a chance to stay with her and her husband for a month out there.  I jumped at the opportunity.  To make a really long story somewhat not as long, I spent my days lying out by the pool and sipping dirty gin martini's.  Yeah it was only 10 a.m., but I was in California.  The weather was beautiful all the time and I didn't have a care in the world.  I somehow managed to get a month off from work (thinking back now that was really generous of my work) and relished every minute (except for the times when I got really drunk at night and ended up puking for a good hour or two).   Come to think of it, that happened almost every weekend.  Ugh the aftertaste of the dirty martinis in the morning with that strong sunshine blaring into the room.  And the headaches....wait, where was I going with this?

So it was my cousin who introduced me to gin.  Seagrams I believe.  Now I've developed a somewhat more sophisticated palate and prefer Bombay Sapphire.  I don't drink it dirty anymore.  Basically straight up with olives.  The drinking at 10 a.m. days are gone and I only touch the stuff once in a great while.  But, it was fun to visit with gin again today.  We reminisced on old times and had a good laugh about the crazy old days.  Man, it's tough getting old.


Cucumbers: $1.55
Gin: $21.99 (I ran out and had to buy more)
Limes: had
Sugar: had

TOTAL: $23.54


FAST:  Not as quick as you think.  Making the "cucumber water" took a good 20 minutes.  Straining it was the hardest part (partially because I didn't have a fine mesh strainer.  SHOCK AND HORROR?  Chef Mark doesn't have a fine mesh strainer?  Yes, the truth is now out.  There are a few kitchen gadgets I don't have.  A fine mesh strainer being one of them).   Anywayw, once the cucumber stuff is done, the rest is really easy.

EASY: Again, I have to go back to the making of the "cucumber water" and harp on it.  It was kind of putsy.  And the "strainer" I used was a pain in the butt.  Not to sound redundant but once that's done, the rest is really easy.

FRESH: For as much work as the "cucumber water" is, it really freshens up the drink and is worth the effort.  That with the combination of the lime juice make this the perfect hot day drink.

OVERALL:  You know I like my gin and would you be really suprised if I didn't like this recipe?  Well, I actually like it a lot!  I will definitely have to find a real fine mesh strainer to use next time (to make things go quicker and easier).  I'm also tempted to maybe add a little fresh mint.   Hmm...

Well, the rain has cleared up and the sun is out.  It's actually quite beautiful outside now.  I'm going to head outside with this martini, towel off the patio chairs, and try to recapture maybe 30 minutes of a simpler time when I was 21.  I'll see you this weekend for dessert!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

May 20th - Tuna, White Bean & Roasted Pepper Salad with Creamy Dijon Dressing

Aw, Lettuce
So the lettuce we planted has finally started coming up!  There is such a difference in taste between homegrown lettuce and store bought.  We planted a loose leaf mix and some romaine-ish type head lettuce.  What's great about growing lettuce is that you can keep growing more and more throughout the summer.  It's pretty low maintenance.  So the picture above is a 50-50 mix of homegrown and store bought!

Mayonnaise: had
Olive oil: had
Dijon mustard: had
Champagne vinegar: had
Baby greens: $1.99
White beans: $1.00
Roasted red peppers: had
Red onion: $0.88
Tuna: $1.75
Kalamata olives: $1.91

TOTAL: $7.53

FAST: The dressing took me 5 minutes to make.  The prep for the rest of the salad (including opening the cans of tuna and draining them) took about 10 minutes.  So, this salad can really be thrown together in about 15 minutes.

EASY: Really the hardest part of this whole thing is opening the cans and draining the tuna well.

FRESH: Very much so.  Everything works together great.  The creaminess of the beans and the saltiness of the kalamata olive play off the red onion and pungency of the dijon dressing.  Throw in some garden fresh lettuce and you've got a hit on your hands. 

OVERALL:  My least favorite part of this whole salad is the tuna.  I really would have enjoyed this recipe more without it.  Unless canned tuna is mixed up with some mayo to make tuna salad, then I don't really care for it.  I suppose you could mix in the tuna with the bean/red pepper mixture, but I think a total veggie version would be just fine.

Tomorrow is cocktail time!!! Exciting.  See you then.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

May 19th - Frisee and Morel Ragout with Prosciutto

Mushroom Hunting
In the past week, I have heard 5 separate conversations regarding mushroom hunting.  I know its morel season, but when did this get so popular?  And these conversations were really hush-hush.  Apparently everyone's got their own secret spot to look for morels. 

Surprise surprise, I'm not on the bandwagon.  First off, I'm too chicken poop to eat anything I find in the wild.  I'm afraid of either dying or having some weird (how's that Joy?) psycho-trippy reaction to it.  Second, these people spend hours looking in wooded areas and end up finding a mushroom or two.  To me, it's not worth it.  I can find better things to do with that time (like blog).
There were no morel mushrooms to be found in any of my local grocery stores, so I substituted oyster mushrooms.  Also, frisee is near impossible to find, so I substituted escarole (a close relative). 

Butter: had
Oyster mushrooms: $2.99
Shallots: $1.29
Chicken broth: had
Escarole: $1.79
Peas: had
Heavy cream: $1.99
Prosciutto: $1.74
Lemon Juice: had

TOTAL: $9.80


FAST: The ragout took about 15 minutes total.  That included prep time and cooking time.  It's really quick.

EASY: There is nothing difficult about this recipe except for finding morels and frisee.  If you substitute out the ingredients, the dish will still be delicious.  Chopping up the ingredients is not hard at all.

FRESH:  The bitterness of the escarole comes through as do the sweetness of the peas.  They really make the ragout fresh tasting.

OVERALL: I like it...a lot.  I pan fried some chicken thighs and it was so delicious.  There are so many different flavors going on, but they all work together.  The salty/meaty prosciutto, the woodiness of the mushrooms, the bitter of the escarole, the sweet peas, the bite of acidity with the lemon juice.  Yummy!!!  Garnish with a little fresh chopped parsley and you're good to go!!

Well, tomorrow we've got another Italian dish - a tuna salad with white beans.  Sounds like a nice light supper for summer.  See ya then!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

May 18th - Horseradish Spiked Roast Beef and Arugula Sandwiches

Hope y'all are rested up.  It's time for another week of food!  I'm pretty excited for the cocktail on Friday!!

Sour cream: $1.99
Horseradish: $1.79
Thyme: had (herb garden)
French Bread: $1.99
Roast Beef $3.09
Vidalia Onion: $0.89
Arugula: $1.99

TOTAL: $11.74

The roast beef came from the deli counter of my grocery store.  Otherwise, you can pretty much find everything no problem.


FAST:  The horseradish sauce took 5 minutes to make.  It says that it should sit for 5 minutes or up to 3 hours.  (Obviously the longer it sits, the better it will taste.)  Putting the sandwich together takes maybe 5 minutes tops.  So you can have this on the table in about 15 minutes.

EASY:  The horseradish cream is super simple and if you can build a sandwich, you're good to go for the rest of the recipe.

FRESH: I suppose.  The thyme really stands out in the horseradish cream and the arugula is a great alternative to hum-drum lettuce.  The raw onion slices were a bit too strong for me.  I would have much rather had some sauteed onions instead. 

OVERALL: These sandwiches were okay.  I don't think they were anything spectacular or new.   Again, I think some sauteed onions would have given the roast beef a little more dimension.  Plus the sweetness of the onion would have played really well with the pungency of the horseradish.

Tomorrow is an interesting ragout with morels and frisee (both of which I cannot find).  So we'll be substituting big time tomorrow.  See ya then!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

May 15 & 16 - Tangerine Granita with Vanilla Bean Cream

The Fancy Creamsicle
Ah, how I love creamsicles.  That smooth orange/creamy taste slips onto the tongue like a soft fluffy cloud.  Memories of playing kickball in the alley with the neighborhood kids during the warm summer evenings.  Thoses were the days!  

So this recipe comes just in time for a perfectly sunny day today.  Did a little shopping and some planting and enjoyed the rest of the sunshine with the granita.  I served them in martini glasses for Brian and I and we spent the better part of an hour lounging in the backyard enjoying these "sophisticated" childhood treats.   

Tangerine juice: $2.99
Sugar: had
Whipping cream: $1.99
Vanilla bean: had

TOTAL: $4.98

I just happened to have vanilla beans in my pantry.  You can find them now in most upscale grocery stores like Whole Foods or Trader Joe's (even Williams Sonoma carries them).  The downside to vanilla beans are the price (they're costly).   I did see that Williams Sonoma now carries the Nielsen-ssey Vanilla paste.  I used to use the paste at work all the time.  It gives you the flavor of beans (with the little specks of seeds) at a much cheaper cost.  I picked up some of that as well for future recipes.

Tangerine juice was hard to find.  I didn't want to buy fresh tangerines and spend the time squeezing them.  I did find a bottled tangerine/orange mix.  So, I just used that.  However, I cut the sugar down to 1/3 cup instead of the 2/3 called for in the recipe.  It worked great.


FAST:  Really, it's not.  The minimum the granita has to sit in your freezer is 3 hours.  I let mine go overnight.  The cream says 2 hours or overnight.  (I did mine overnight). 

EASY:  The granita is simple.  Just mix the juice and sugar together in a pan until it dissolves and freeze.  The hardest part was remembering to come back in 2 hours and stir the mixture.  Once frozen,  you just use a spoon (or fork) and scrape the granita over the surface.  The vanilla cream is super simple as well.  The hardest part of that is to make sure you half the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the middle with a knife into the cream.  You want all that vanilla bean goodness to flavor the cream. 

FRESH:  The citrus in the granita actually makes this one of the fresher desserts we've had in a while.  (I'm sure if you used fresh squeezed juice, it would be much better).  This would be really refreshing on a hot day.

OVERALL: I like the simplicity of this dessert.  I forgot, however, to cover the granita with plastic wrap overnight and it has a slight hint of freezer (freon) taste.  I think it looks really nice served in martini glasses.  Just garnish maybe with a slice of tangerine or even candied orange zest and you've got yourself one classy looking dessert. 

Well, I'm all for a break tomorrow.  See ya Tuesday!  Have a wonderful rest of your weekend.

Friday, May 14, 2010

May 14th - Grilled Chicken Skewers with Red Pepper Pesto

Another Late Night...
Well, it's another late night of cooking due to the fact that I decided to get out of the house and enjoy the beautiful weather today.  My friend Nikki and I did some rummage and estate saleing with a little thrift store peppered in there.  No great finds for me!  (I was looking for some cool kitchen stuff).  However, I did have the best fish fry for lunch at this Irish bar.  Yummy!  The fish was so crisp on the outside and delicate on the inside.  The french fries are the best ever!!  They have a crisp coating on the outside as well!  Coleslaw, which I don't ever eat, was great!  Thank god we did a lot of walking!!

Roasted Red Bell Peppers: $1.00
Cilantro: $0.69
Balsamic Vinegar: had
Garlic: had
Dry Mustard, Coriander, & Cinnamon: had
Olive oil: had
Almonds: had
Chicken: $4.22

TOTAL: $5.91

I like it when I have most of the stuff for the recipe in my house.  It makes for less grocery shopping.  I happened to have a jar of roasted red bell peppers in the pantry from a recipe last month (I bought extra because they were only $1 a jar).  Also, almonds have been pretty big in the recipes for this month, so I bought a big container of them and kept them in the freezer. 

FAST:  The chicken took about 12 minutes to cook through.  The pesto took 2 minutes to blend together.  You could have this on the table in about 15 minutes.

EASY:  Grilling chicken is a snap.  If you don't want to go through that hassle, bake the chicken in the oven or put it under the broiler.  The pesto is so super easy.  Just bust out your food processor and add everything together.

FRESH: MMMM...YES!  The roasted peppers, cilantro, and spices add so much dimension to the pesto.  The almonds give it a nice little crunch.

OVERALL:  The star of this recipe is that pesto, which is so good.  It'll be oh so much more delicious the next day...I'm sure (INSERTED BLOG NOTE:  It is so much better the next day.  It's Saturday morning and I tried some and the flavors have developed a thousand fold.  Yummmm!).  The chicken is good, but I think I would like this pesto mixed in with some pasta.  Maybe some spinach?  Maybe mix the chicken in with the pasta as well?   This pesto would also be a good sandwich spread.  Maybe a grilled veggie sandwich?  Or how about a prosciutto and fresh mozzarella panini?  So many possibilities, so little time.  Can you tell I highly recommend this recipe?

Okay.  The dessert this weekend a granitaHmm... I'm going to have to start it Saturday as it needs to sit overnight in the freezer.  See ya then!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

May 13th - Campanelle Pasta with Burrata Cheese, Spinach, Lemon, and Toasted Almonds

Not So Good Today...
I'm feeling really run-down today.  I think it is a sign of oncoming sickness.  Boo!!  I just need to take some sleeping pills tonight and sleep in tomorrow.  Hopefully, that'll help me shake it off.

So, I got an e-mail that my cake photo is published on the Les Dames Chicago website!  Woo hoo!! Check it out at:

There's a better shot of it here (scroll down to the seventh picture):

THE RECIPEIngredients
Campanelle pasta: $1.99
Butter & Olive Oil: had
Garlic: had
Lemon: $0.59
Spinach: $2.99
Almonds: Had
Cheese: $2.19

TOTAL: $7.76

So, I'm still unable to find burrata cheese.  This is the second recipe that calls for it.  I haven't been able to locate it anywhere!!!  So, I substituted buffalo mozzarella.

Campanelle pasta is the one that is shaped like a little flower or bell.  I didn't have any trouble finding it.  I suppose you could use any shape, but I actually like the look of the campanelle.


FAST: The pasta took about 10 minutes to cook.  While I was waiting for the water to boil, I chopped the garlic, fried it up, and added the lemon juice (about 5 minutes total).  As the pasta was cooking, I toasted the almonds.  Total time was about 15 to 20 minutes tops from start to finish.

EASY: Toasting the almonds can get tricky.  I just used a dry fry pan and toasted them on the stove top.  As soon as they start to get golden brown, I shut off the heat and continue to stir the almonds.  The residual heat in the pan helps to get them nicely toasted without burning.

FRESH: An overwhelming YES!  Lemon, spinach, buffalo mozzarella and toaste almonds.  It's a party in my mouth.

OVERALL:  This is such a simple, yet delicious recipe.  I was a little surprised at how well it turned out.  I love the unexpected crunch of the almonds!  And, the spinach naturally wilting in the hot pasta keeps that spinach flavor without the soggy sauteed spinach texture.  Just watch the adding of the lemon juice to the garlic (it turned my garlic blue).   I didn't saute the garlic as long as I should have and kept the lemon juice and garlic cooking longer than necessary.   Oh well.

I am off to make some camomile tea, take two sleeping pills, and watch some mindless T.V.!

Tomorrow we've got chicken skewers! See ya then!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

May 12th - Asparagus with Gremolata Butter

So Long Joy!
So we bid Joy farewell and move back into the mundane of the work world.  But fear not, for we are having my chef friend Tommy and his wife, Julia, over for dinner!  I love entertaining.  Unfortunately, I totally biffed this recipe (which I served to them anyway).  I way overcooked the asparagus and really browned the garlic.  Hey, nobody's perfect (well, except for Joy, but she's gone back to the land of cheese). 

Asparagus: $3.99
Butter: had
Lemon: $0.69
Garlic: had
Parsley: $0.59

TOTAL: $5.27


FAST: This recipe only took 10 minutes from start to finish. 

EASY:  The hardest part of this recipe is chopping up the garlic and the parsley.  Boiling and cooling the asparagus is a snap....unless you get distracted and you end up over cooking the asparagus.

FRESH:  Asparagus and lemon.  A classic combination that screams spring fresh!

OVERALL:  Again, I biffed this recipe big time.  However, the browned garlic actually gave this recipe a little bite.  Otherwise, it would have been a pretty boring lemon and asparagus recipe.  With that being said, the fact that I had totally mushy asparagus was a deal breaker.  I didn't want to throw it away, so I figured we could all still enjoy it.  Mushy asparagus is such a nasty texture. 

Ah well.  Pasta tomorrow!!!

May 11th - Turkey Cutlets Piccata

Oy!  Major Fraud!
Okay, you'll notice that this blog is a day late.  In the spirit of full disclosure (no song here Joy), I must tell you that I absolutely had no time to blog yesterday.  I taught in the morning/afternoon and then spent the entire rest of the evening with awesome Joy from Wisconsin seeing the most fantastic "Billy Elliott" at the Oriental Theater.   (I highly recommend the show!)  We got home at 11 p.m. and I was in no mood to cook (but I was in the mood to "Dance Billy, Dance").

So you get two blogs for the price of one.  The recipe for today will be coming shortly.

UPDATE:  Apparently I got an e-mail about my cake for the fundraiser on Monday and it went for $1200.  That's Crazy!!  I'm so glad that I could help out for such a great cause.  That makes it definitely worth all the hard work.

I'll be taking orders now for 2011 for my chocolate cake.  Please make your $1200 checks payable to SuperStar Chef Mark. 

Flour: had
Turkey Cutlets: $5.29
Butter: had
Veggie oil: had
Lemon juice: $1.59
White wine: $3.99
Parsley: had (from my herb garden)
Capers: had

Total: $ 10.87


FAST: I was able to throw this recipe together in less than 15 minutes.  The turkey cutlets were so thin that they only needed to cook for 3 minutes.  The sauce was a 2 minute throw together.

EASY: The hardest part of this recipe would be trying to find the turkey cutlets.  I had to go to two different grocery stores.

FRESH: Not at all.  Guest taster, Joy, said that it was very blah.  It needed "flavor". 

OVERALL:  We discussed how to amp up the flavor of the piccata or in Joy's words "make it taste like something that doesn't suck".  I thought maybe you could sprinkle some parmesan on it, but Joy (and Brian) say to scrap the whole thing.  It's a good recipe if you've got nothing in the house or very little in your pantry.  I'm more of a fan of chicken (yes, I know this is turkey) Marsala.  It's basically what I made here but using Marsala wine instead of white wine and lemon and adding some fresh sauteed mushrooms.  Mmm...that sounds good.

Okay, I will make the asparagus later tonight and post it here.  See ya later!

Monday, May 10, 2010

May 10th - My Crazy Chocolate Cake


So here it is folks, my chocolate cake for the fancy schmancy fundraiser tonight.  I dropped it off and high tailed it home to have a drink with my friend Joy who is visiting from Cheeseland (a.k.a. Wisconsin).

The monster above is a chocolate cake filled with chocolate mousse and chocolate buttercream and covered with a chocolate fudge frosting.  Then, there are hundreds (well not hundreds) of painstakingly hand made flowers around the entire thing.  What do you think?



Brian (and I, but it was mostly Brian) made this cake stand out of a plate and some weird wire dress thing I found at homegoods. 

The take home gift for the lucky winners of my dessert is a box of homemade (yes Joy I made them myself) truffles.  From the top left (clockwise) Salt and Pepper Truffle, Basil and Hazelnut Truffle, Bittersweet Chocolate Truffle, Cinnamon and Chili Powder Truffle.

Brian made these boxes for me for the truffles.  Aren't they cute?  Since the fundraiser tonight was a fashion theme, Brian used a bunch of Marie Claire magazines to decorate the tops. 

So the way the fundraiser works is that everyone gets the same dinner (cooked by some really famous Chicago chefs) and then the tables of 10 have to bid on a dessert (there are like 32 to bid on).  Whoever bids the highest gets that dessert and the little take-home gift.  I guess I'll find out tomorrow how much mine went for.  Okay...that's it.  That's what I've been planning since March and working on for the past two weeks!!  Time for cocktails!!!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

May 8 & 9 - White Chocolate Mousse with Dark Chocolate Sauce

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!  Growing up, you taught me a lot about food and cooking.  It was all the exotic ingredients you fed me as a kid that peaked my interest in doing this for a living.  And now, look at me, I'm a chef!  Although my pierogi's will never be as good as yours, you patiently taught me how to make them and everything else in your culinary repertoire.  Thank you for helping me find my passion in life! 

White Chocolate: $2.99
Heavy Whipping Cream: $1.99
Corn Syrup: had
Bittersweet Chocolate: $2.89

TOTAL: $7.87

I am not a big fan of white chocolate (like so many people out there).  It's funny because when I was a kid I loved it.  Now...not so much.  I think it has something to do with the fact that every time I tried to use it in a recipe at the restaurant, it always ended up being a pain in the butt .  It never melted right and got all funky.  Plus, there's something about the smell that just doesn't sit right with me.  In any case, I'll eat it, but don't go out of my way to make anything white chocolatey.


FAST: Buzz!! It took me about 25 minutes to put the white chocolate mousse together (15 minutes of that was to let the white chocolate mixture cool).  However, this mousse needs to set for at least 4 hours.  And, the chocolate sauce will take you another 15 minutes to make.  So, plan for about 5 hours from start to finish.

EASY: This is probably the simplest mousse recipe I have ever seen.  Granted, it's doesn't technically fall into the classic French definition of a mousse, but it's a simple cheater recipe.  There really isn't much to it.  Melt the chocolate, let it cool for a while, and then fold in whipped cream.  For some people the difficulty could lie in not grabbing a big spoon and eating the warm chocolate right out of the saucepan.

FRESH: I'm going to go with no.  It tastes like white chocolate and regular chocolate (not that there is anything wrong with that).  There's no zing of freshness at all in the dessert (maybe if it had some orange zest or orange liquor in it).   Also, the recipe itself is not a fresh take on mousse.

OVERALL:  I had to confer with Brian on this one as I am sort of meh about white chocolate.  He loved it (being a chocoholic that's no surprise).  I just thought it was okay.  I didn't care for the texture too much.  I'm used to a really fluffy mousse...this one wasn't.  I folded with great care, but it was a tad dense.  I'm sure there are much better recipes out there that are worth the effort. 

So...tomorrow is that chocolate cake.  I'm so nervous.  Depending on what time I get back from the city, I may post pictures.  Otherwise, Tuesday is Turkey Day! See ya then!  (Wish me luck!)

Friday, May 7, 2010

May 7th - Beet, Chickpea, and Almond Dip with Pita Chips

Growing up Polish, beets were a staple of our house.  I love them.  And I love finding new ways to use them.  However, this recipe seemed a bit wierd to me.  Pureed beets in a dip?  The answer is a most definite: Yes, and it's delicious. 

I decided to buy the beets with the greens still attached to them.  They weren't any more expensive, and the greens can be saved and cooked up for another meal.  (I cooked the beet greens with some sauteed onion, ham, and water for 10 minutes...until the water mostly evaporated..and then added a tablespoon of apple cider vinger.  Delicious and simple).

Another keeper from this recipe are the pita chips.  They are way too good!   Brian just about devoured the entire batch.   What a great alternative to crackers or tortilla chips for most any kind of dip!

NOTE:  The dip actually came out a nice pinkish color.  The photo above makes it look like marinara sauce. It was the best I could take on such a cloudy, overcast day.

Beets: $1.29
Garbanzo beans $0.99
Olive oil: $5.99 (I finally ran out)
Almonds: $2.99
Garlic: had
Red wine vinegar: had
Pita bread: $0.99

Total: $12.25


FAST: The beets have to cook for 12 minutes.  In the meantime, I got all of the other stuff prepped out for the dip.  Pureeing it all will take another 5 minutes.  Then, the chips took about 10 minutes (my oven seems to be running hotter than it's suppose to).  So, I had this on the table in about 27 minutes.

EASY: Peeling beets is a messy task.  I highly suggest wearing gloves to not stain your hands.  Also, I flipped my pita chips half way through cooking to brown them evenly (the recipe doesn't tell you to do this).  Those little suckers are hot and can be a little difficult.  Otherwise, if you've got a food processor this is a snap.

FRESH: The red wine vinegar acts like a little punch to bring out the freshness of the beets.  I would garnish with a little chopped up parsley though (not in the recipe).

OVERALL:  The dip was really good, but heavy on the garlic.  I only put in 4 cloves (the recipe calls for 5).  I'd make it for a party, but cut down on the garlic.  Maybe only two cloves?  I'd rather let the taste of the beets shine through then the garlic. 

For the weekend...white chocolate mousse.  How fitting the dessert for the weekend be chocolate with my chocolate cake in the process of being put together for Monday?   I know its blasphemy for a pastry chef to say this, but the smell of chocolate is starting to make me ill. 

See ya tommorrow (or Sunday).

Thursday, May 6, 2010

May 6th - Grilled Pork Satay

Feliz Seis De Mayo...or Not!
Yippee...I'm finally over my really bad case of stomach cramps from the crappy (literally) burrito!  That's reason to celebrate in and of itself.  Not to whine again, but I'm flippin tired.  Today was a dog day at school.  8 Hours of nothing but baking and pastry lab with a half hour break in there somewhere.  Don't get me wrong, I love doing it, but EXHAUSTING!

Let's get to the food so I can go to bed.

Peanut Butter: $2.00
Limes: $0.69
Soy sauce: had
Ginger: had
Garlic: had
Red pepper: had
Pork $4.19

Total: $6.88

I just picked up some thick cut pork chops and cut them into thin strips.  Worked great and was quite easy.

If you're going to grill these satays, I suggest you soak the wooden skewers in some water for at least an hour.  This prevents them from burning on the grill.  The longer they soak (for up to 2 hours), the less they'll burn.


FAST:  Preping and marinating the pork took no longer than 16 minutes.  Cooking only took about 6 minutes.  So you're looking at satay in about 22 minutes.

EASY:  The marinade is throw together.  The hardest part will be not sticking yourself with the wooden skewers as you try to thread the meat onto them.

FRESH:  It's the fresh ginger and lime juice that make all the difference in the satay.   They're  crisp and clean and come through the heavy peanut butter flavor.

OVERALL:  Brian and I really liked these.  They're so easy and delicious.  I would make these again for company.  It's your typical satay recipe, but quite good.  I'm a little surprised on the ease of this recipe.

Tomorrow is a wierd beet and chickpea dip....hmmm....see ya then!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

May 5th - Polenta with Bacon and Fontina

I have been in the mood for a burrito since yesterday.  So I decided that today would be the day to splurge on calories and to get one.  I called my friend Nikki (frequent commentor on this blog) and we headed out for a margarita and burrito.   Went to this place in town and it was packed.  45 minute wait!  WHAT??  And then we had awful service, way too salty margaritas, and burritos that were meh.  And now, 2 hours later, I feel sick.  It's 8:30 p.m. and I am just now doing my blog for the day.  I've been at school most of the day working on my chocolate cake for Monday.  Also, Brian has had a touch of the stomach flu (aka diarrhea) this evening and is in bed pretty much dead to the world.   Phew what a crappy cinco de mayo.  I hope seis de mayo is much better.

Ham: $1.49
Onion: had
Garlic: had
Chicken broth: $2.00
Corn: had
Polenta: $2.99
Fontina Cheese: $3.12
Parmesan Cheese: $2.23
Parsley: had

Total: $11.83

I totally forgot to get bacon and I ain't going this late at night to get any.  I have ham and am using that instead.


FAST:  The prep took me 5 minutes.  The polenta cooked for a total of 35 minutes (that includes the stuff you do before you add the polenta like frying the onions and waiting for the broth to come to a boil).  So, overall this recipe took 40 minutes.

EASY:  Really easy.  The prep is the hardest part of the recipe.  The only difficulty you may have is standing at the stove and stirring frequently for at least 18 minutes (the time it takes to cook the polenta alone).

FRESH:  The corn and parsley are the standouts that make this fresh tasting.

OVERALL: It's actually really good.  Now, I'm sure it would have been even better with the bacon (because bacon makes everything taste better), but the ham was a good stand in with the cheeses.   The corn and parsley were nice little surprises in there as well.  The only problem I can see people having with this recipe is the whole thing looks (and has the texture) of gruel.  It's a thick poridgy mess.  But don't let the looks fool you, it's actually a good (and filling) meal.  I will have to definitely make this again (with bacon) and won't hesitate serving this to company.

Tomorrow is pork satay!  See ya then!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May 4th - Striped Bass with Garlic Herb Oil

Oh Fishsticks!
Hey everyone.  Did you have a good Monday?  I did.  Rest and relaxation for a change.  Although I did do a little more for that cake on Monday the 10th.  Don't worry, snapping away'll get to see it. 

WHINING ALERT:  I'm exhausted.  Lectured back to back today for 4 hours to my new students in baking and pastry.   There's a lot of them: 25 in one class and 27 in another.  YIKES!  So, not so much chatter from me today!  Lets get to the food!  I'm starving.

Knowing my record, do you really think I got striped bass for this recipe?  BUZZ!  I didn't.  I got ocean pearch instead, because it was much cheaper. 

This recipe is deceptively simple, I'm wondering if it'll be any good?

Olive oil: had
Garlic: $1.00 (when did garlic prices go up?)
Crushed red pepper: had
Lemon: $0.33
Marjoram (fresh): $1.99
Fish: $6.99
Italian Parsley: $0.69

Total: $11.00


FAST:  The fish has got to "marinade" with the oil for 30 minutes.  The oil itself only takes 5 minutes to make.   Tack on another 6 minutes to cook the fish and you're looking at 41 - 45 minutes tops to make this recipe.

EASY:  Super Duper.  There's nothing to it.  You don't even have to chop anything if you don't want to (except the parsley for garnish).

FRESH:  Not too bad.  The marjoram is overpowering a little, but you do get a hint of lemon.

OVERALL:  Not bad.  The marjoram needs to be cut with another herb.  Maybe put some parsley in the oil too?  I'd like some sliced green onions as well.  Watch the red pepper flakes.  You'll make it too spicy if you put too much.  Needs a little tweeking, but a good start to an easy meal.

Tomorrow is polenta.  I haven't made that since culinary school!  See ya then!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

May 1 & 2 - Exotic Fruit with Ginger Sabayon

Shia, right.  Remember that chocolate cake I have to do for that very fancy fundraiser?  It's due next Monday (the 10th).  Well, I've been making my chocolate flowers for it all day yesterday and today.  (I am using a chocolate molding "clay" recipe that is just chocolate and corn syrup.)  I've been rolling, cutting, and fashioning a ton of flowers to decorate the outside of this cake.  (Don't worry, I'm taking a ton of pictures that I will post sometime next week.)  The only thing that's been getting in my way is the humidity.  It's making the clay too soft to work with (and a pain).  But fear not, I will persevere...

So onto sabayon... I used to hate making this at the restaurant, but I've started to get a new appreciate for it.  I do suggest that you get some sort of thermometer to measure the temperature (instant read is probably the best).  You want to make sure you bring the sabayon to 170 so you don't risk anyone getting sick off the egg yolks.  Also, to make things much easier for you, use a hand held mixer.  If you're up for it, you can whisk by hand, but it is a definite work out for your arm. 

Sabayon is one of those desserts that should be made as close to service as possible.  You can fold in some sweetened whipped cream into it, to get it to stay longer (and to cut the alcohol flavor), but it doesn't stay for more than an hour.  It will deflate and turn soupy. 

Sugar: had
Eggs: had
White wine: $3.99
Sherry: had
Ground ginger:had
Mango & Pineapple: $4.38
Banana: had
Crystallized ginger: had

Total: $8.37


FAST:  I don't know if my thermometer was broken or what, but it took more than 5 minutes to get to 170 (more like 9).    Depending on how much fruit you have, cutting it up could take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes.  This recipe took me about 20 minutes from start to finish.

EASY:  The sabayon is really easy.  Cutting up the fruit is the most difficult part. 

FRESH:  Like the Prince of Bel Aire.  I love ripe tropical fruits (pineapple, mango, papaya). 

OVERALL:  I didn't think I would like the sabayon with the ginger in it, but it actually was really good (and different).  It went great with the pineapple and banana.  The mango, on the otherhand, was NOT good with the sabayon.  Yuck.  The flavor combination was terrible. 

This recipe got me thinking about doing different flavored sabayons.  Maybe a lavendar one using dried lavendar flowers ground up with the sugar?  Or use Grand Marnier (orange liquor) instead of the sherry?  The possibilities are endless.

Well a new quarter starts this week and I am back teaching my favorite subject...BAKING AND PASTRY!!  Yippee.  Remember, Monday, I'm off.   We've got fish on Tuesday!   See ya then.